The Wimp’s Guide to Scary Cinema

I scare easily. I’m not ashamed. I don’t watch ‘proper’ horror films because my poor overactive imagination can’t handle it. But I do enjoy a bit of menace and weirdness and darkness in my fiction, so it’s a constant toss-up between watching what I want to watch and getting a good night’s sleep afterwards.

In honour of this spooky time of year, here are a few of the scariest films I have ever subjected myself to.

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Under the Skin (2013) — Scarlett Johansson is an alien huntress stalking the streets of Glasgow in human form, drawing unsuspecting men into her web.

Under the Skin isn’t just one of the most unique cinematic experience you’ll ever have, it’s also one of the most genuinely unsettling. It’s not just the grotesque visual moments: it’s that pulsating soundtrack, and more than anything, the pervasive sense of seeing our familiar world through alien eyes. As Johansson’s alien begins to gradually develop a sense of compassion for her victims, she becomes vulnerable: and we’re reminded that human beings are responsible for plenty of our own horrors.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) — A young girl faces a series of supernatural trials while the Spanish civil war unfolds around her.

This is a beautiful, transporting, magical film about love, sacrifice and loss of innocence. Unfortunately, it is also the film which gave us that torture scene. And… this. Thanks, Guillermo. Thanks a bunch.

A Field in England (2013) — A rag-tag group of English Civil War deserters have a hallucinatory encounter with a mysterious alchemist.

Who knows what on earth A Field in England is about. Is it an examination of the tension between faith and reason? Of the duality of good and evil, of the primal forces residing in the English landscape? Little White Lies likened the viewing experience to ‘being punched in the face by your best friend for no reason.’ Like Under the Skin, this film eschews explanation in favour of giving us a visceral experience. And visceral it certainly is — especially when it comes to the notorious ‘rope walk’ scene, in which the look on actor Reece Shearsmith’s face is more terrifying than any monster.

ParaNorman (2012) — A young boy who can talk to ghosts must take on an invasion of zombies and witches.

Wait. Wait. I don’t do zombies — I switched off after about three minutes of The Walking Dead, and I had nightmares about World War Z for weeks. (After watching the opening ten minutes. And then switching it off.) But the PG-rated ParaNorman was a work assignment, so I dutifully trekked to Cineworld to see it, only to find that I was the only person in the screening. When these guys came up out of the ground, I’m telling you, it was all too much. This is genuinely the closest I have ever come to walking out of a film.

Dumbo (1941) — A disfigured child is cruelly exploited after the incarceration of his mother, and spirals into alcohol abuse.

I am presuming this requires no explanation.

I asked the Damaris office… What films freaked you out?

Steve C

Event Horizon (1997) with Sam Neill. I thought it was a normal Sci-Fi thriller and then halfway through — “Wow, this got dark.”

Steve A

My wife was freaked out by The Princess Diaries 2 (2004). There was some ominous music at some point and she thought the main character was going to get kidnapped. Labyrinth (1986) scares me — David Bowie in those high trousers. And those off-putting muppet things.

Judy

The Neverending Story (1984). That horrible dog. It’s got scales and fur. It’s sick. I hate that film. I feel really strongly about it.

Originally published at filmblog.damaris.org on October 27, 2015.

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